Credit: Fantasia Festival
by Molly Adams Film

Lost Boys | Joonas Neuvonen

August 12, 2021

Following the success of a documentary based on their experiences as addicts, two of the subjects and the director of Reindeerspotting: Escape From Santaland take the after party all the way to Bangkok. Director Joonas Neuvonen returns home as planned, while the other two, Jani and Antti follow their hedonistic urges to Cambodia. When Jani is later found dead in Cambodia under suspicious circumstances, Neuvonen returns, camera in hand, to create a tragic sequel and find out what truly happened to his friend.

The result of Neuvonen’s journey is half neon-drenched noir, half harrowing documentary, with each part clashing tragically and uncomfortably with the other. Pekka Strang’s monotone narration as the voice of Neuvonen provides cynical commentary, with an audible pessimism that colors the entire film. When combined with Neuvonen’s intimate footage of Jani, Antti, and their escapades in Bangkok and Cambodia, the effect is nothing short of distressing. The narrative flits between everyday footage of Jani and co. in Asia, surrounded by a revolving door of Thai and Cambodian extras seemingly drawn by money and drugs, and Neuvonen’s later search for the pair, in which he returns to the trio’s old haunts and tries to put the pieces of this puzzle together. Neuvonen’s dedication to long-winded, uncut scenes of Jani and co. leads to some unevenness and odd pacing, and despite the film’s fairly slim runtime, the sheer intensity of its subject matter makes the whole affair something of a slog to get through. Similarly, that the camera watches on as Jani descends further into addiction might leave some — this writer certainly included — feeling beyond uncomfortable. It’s voyeuristic to the point of exploitation, and no amount of rationalization can fix that. However, Neuvonen’s refusal to ever turn his camera away is also the film’s greatest strength: it’s his intense, singular focus that most effectively humanizes his subjects. While at first Neuvonen only seems interested in humanizing his white, Finnish subjects, even that scope eventually widens, with a scene featuring a Cambodian woman called Lee Lee, who is caught in the aftermath of Jani’s death, being perhaps the emotional peak of the entire film.

Switching at breakneck speed from melancholic to exploitative to tragic to explicit, Lost Boys will certainly not be to everybody’s taste. However, there is no denying that, with its singular vision and unflinching camera, the film is, for better or worse, not one that is likely to leave the audience’s minds any time soon.

Published as part of Fantasia Fest 2021 — Dispatch 3.